From Han Solo’s ranking among the top heroes in film to the trap trio Migos’ huge success in the last year , there seems to be a consistent place for the rogue in art: Han glorifies himself with the title of smuggler, and many popular rappers claim the label of a thug. But the reason these characters are enjoyed is actually different from their claims.
Both of these personas do try to play up their villainous archetype, and there’s no denying that some fans of both Han Solo and rappers like Migos or 21 Savage enjoy the idea of someone who completely disregards the law. However, if we were to truly see these figures play the part of a scoundrel—an unprincipled, dishonorable villain—then many fans would change their opinions. Imagine, for instance, if we saw the true effects of Han’s drug-running for Jabba the Hutt. The power of the Hutts kept slavery as an acceptable practice, and Han’s business would have ensured greater dependence on drugs and criminal violence throughout interstellar communities. Fortunately, the only Han we see is one who fights for the Rebellion with a cocky attitude—not one who ships crippling drugs and weapons all across the galaxy for a murderous, enslaving gangster.
The same goes for many rap artists that take on a similar persona. The Migos obviously don’t try to advertise the true, debilitating consequences that making crack cocaine has on their local community, nor does 21 Savage try to show the emotional effects that would come if he were to actually “tie your kids up [and] pistol whip you while your b*tch naked.” While these claims are found in some of the rappers’ most successful songs, the accompanying music videos and performances don’t even come close to exploring the real effects of such demonstrably negative behavior. And when such behavior is taken seriously, these artists can quickly lose the confidence of their fanbase, like Kodak Black after posting sexually explicit material on Instagram while facing sexual assault allegations. Otherwise, more explicitly villainous rappers, like MF Doom and Tyler, the Creator, might have enjoyed larger fanbases than Rae Sremmurd or Migos. But it seems actually being a scoundrel isn’t what appeals to the masses.
If being a dishonest villain isn’t what the people enjoy, however, there must be something in each of these infamous personas that the “scoundrel” archetype more broadly appeals to: confidence. Han’s constant smirk paired with his memorable one-liners is part of what makes the smuggler so endearing, and the same goes for rappers like Migos, Young Dro, YG, and Thugger. Few trap enthusiasts would probably approve of Quavo from Migos actually talking with the Taliban (“Taliban: my drugs, wrap ‘em, please”)—what’s actually enjoyable about his performance is the fact that Quavo can get onstage and rap so easily about anything—terrorists, trapping, or traveling—without an ounce of hesitation. This is the real reason we love these characters so much: they’re intrinsically confident, and since we don’t automatically notice terrible effects from their behavior, we can root for these performers (and party with them) just as self-assuredly.
Recognizing this appeal could provide a turning point in both mediums. We don’t truly love scoundrels—we just love the confidence that comes with them, so long as their true villainy isn’t too apparent. This is why Han Solo could still be enjoyed in The Force Awakens: he’s just as confident, but again, we don’t see his smuggling directly connected to the gangs that exploit and enslave people like Rey. We only see Solo return to the good side and try to save his son. And this could be why rappers that exhibit confidence without rapping about murdering or selling cocaine—like platinum-certified artists D.R.A.M., Jidenna, and Rae Sremmurd—are able to experience their own success. I’m interested to see if this trend continues—both in the replacement of a cocky character in the next Star Wars installment and in whatever will be the next hit of trap music.